Reading Megan Comfort’s Doing Time Together as an Early Modernist.

Sometimes I try to lift my head out of the archives and read around in the growing and really awesome new literature on prisons in more recent times. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts about books that deal with the more recently historical experiences of incarceration and … Continue reading Reading Megan Comfort’s Doing Time Together as an Early Modernist.

Rape and Infanticide at the Halstead House of Correction

George Dewing, the keeper of the Halstead House of Correction, was a monster who raped an inmate and murdered her child. Or he was framed.            The version of the story in which he was a monster is found in A Short and Impartial Account of the Proceedings against George Dewing (1728),  probably written by … Continue reading Rape and Infanticide at the Halstead House of Correction

Prisoners and Prison Staff at the Cold Bath Fields House of Correction

by Kiran Mehta In The Promise of Punishment: Prisons in Nineteenth-Century France, published in 1982, Patricia O’Brien argued that the prison guard was ‘the most important person in the operation of the prison’ and that ‘the whole disciplinary regime of the nineteenth century [could] be reduced to the dealings of the guard with the prisoner’. … Continue reading Prisoners and Prison Staff at the Cold Bath Fields House of Correction

A Proposal to Enslave Petty Offenders (1621)

We are delighted to share this post by Krista Kesselring, Professor of History at Dalhousie University. It originally appeared on the Legal History Miscellany blog on 10 January 2017.

Legal History Miscellany

Posted by Krista Kesselring; 10 January 2017

hollars-eight-beggars

The State Papers contain a remarkable rough draft of an Act intended to condemn petty offenders to slavery. Prepared at the opening of the 1621 parliament by an unknown author, the proposal had the following title: ‘An Act for keeping in servile works such persons as shall be convicted of petit larceny and felony capable of the benefit of clergy, and such as shall be convicted for cheaters or incorrigible rogues.’ It echoed in some ways the infamous but short-lived 1547 Act to enslave the persistently unemployed, though this one – somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, given its talk of slavery – presented itself as a measure not just of heightened rigour but also of mercy.[1]

The text is given below. The measure did not pass – nothing passed into law from the 1621 parliament, save for a few new taxes – and the…

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Imprisoned without Trial: Remembering John Bernardi

As America says goodbye to a president who promised but  failed to close Guantánamo, and prepare to inaugurate one who says he wants to “load it up with some bad dudes” we would do well to remember John Bernardi. As suggested by the title of his Short History of the Life of Major John Bernardi, … Continue reading Imprisoned without Trial: Remembering John Bernardi

Grates and Keys: Violence in Early Modern Prisons, Part II

Richard Bell's recent post showed how a humble garden billhook could a potential tool of violence against prisoners. Keys, doors, locks, and grates could wreak a subtler kind of violence. Barring visitors from a prison could be deadly.  "When prisoners are sick," some Newgate debtors told the JPs in 1724, the underkeeper Mr. Perry "won’t let … Continue reading Grates and Keys: Violence in Early Modern Prisons, Part II

Looking for Women in 18th-Century Newgate

We tend to think of prisons as male spaces. So I'm trying an experiment. I will return to material I wrote about in my previous post, When Prisoners Complain, but I'll focus on the women this time. As you'll recall from that last post, in 1702 and again in 1707, some Newgate prisoners informed the … Continue reading Looking for Women in 18th-Century Newgate